A Story of WONDER

May 3, 2019 by

The first issue of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES hit the newsstands ninety years ago, on May 3, 1929. Behind the dramatic Frank R. Paul cover were included five short stories, the beginning of a serialized novel — “The Reign of the Ray” by Fletcher Pratt and Irvin Lester — a science quiz (with the answers in the issue’s stories), an essay contest, and “Science News of the Month.” SCIENCE WONDER STORIES ran for twelve issues dated June 1929 through May 1930. David Lasser was managing editor and Hugo Gernsback was publisher and editor-in-chief.  Each issue had a fantastic Frank R. Paul cover.

In the magazine’s first issue, Gernsback stated — “We live and breathe day by day in a Science saturated atmosphere. The wonders of science no longer amaze us — we accept each new discovery as a matter of course . . . SCIENCE WONDER STORIES supplies the need for scientific fiction and supplies it better than any other magazine . . . . who are readers of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES? Everybody. Bankers, ministers, students, housewives, bricklayers, postal clerks, farmers, mechanics, dentists — every class you can think of — but only those with imagination. And as a rule, only those with intelligence and curiosity . . . . It augers well for the future of science fiction in America.

Gernsback claimed that science fiction was educational and stated that, “Teachers encourage the reading of this fiction because they know that it gives the pupil a fundamental knowledge of science and aviation.

The first issue of the magazine included an essay contest on the topic of “What Science Means To Me.” Jack Williamson won First Honorable Mention for “Tremendous Contribution to Civilization” and E. E. Doc Smith snagged Second Honorable Mention with  “A Scientist-Author Speaks.” The winning entry (gaining the author fifty dollars) by B. S. Moore was entitled — “The Door to the World of Explanation.”

In “Science News of the Month” we learned that Peyote was legal in Paris, although this was controversial. The General Electric Company had produced electric eyes to turn on lights when a room darkened below a certain threshold or by arrangement with a time clock. Also, that television images of persons and objects were broadcast by Station W2XBS in New York City from 7 to 9 P. M. Eastern Standard Time on the radio channel from 2,000 to 2,100 kilocycles. Twenty complete pictures were broadcast every second. Science and wonder indeed!

In subsequent issues, Gernsback introduced us to “The Wonders of Gravitation” and “The Problems of Space Flying.” “Science News of the Month” included a machine that set type by voice, and a robot money-changer that rejected spurious coins while scolding: “Please use good coins only.”

All of this was padding for the stories, of course. Raymond Z. Gallun made his debut here. Other authors included Miles J. Breuer, Stanton A. Coblentz, David H. Keller, Laurence Manning, Fletcher Pratt, Harl Vincent, and Jack Williamson.

In 1930, Gernsback merged SCIENCE WONDER STORIES with its companion magazine, AIR WONDER STORIES, to create WONDER STORIES. Reports vary as to why this merger occurred — weak sales, Gernsback’s poor relationships with his writers, or needed space in the publishing schedule for AVIATION MECHANICS. Perhaps the SCIENCE WONDER STORIES concept was just not working. In an editorial a few months before the last issue, Gernsback commented that the word “Science” in the magazine’s title “. . . has tended to retard the progress of the magazine, because many people had the impression that it is a sort of scientific periodical rather than a fiction magazine.” Whatever the truth, the last issue of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES went on sale in April of 1930.

The magazine is fondly remembered, despite its short run. Gernsback’s idea of selling science to the masses might have been a gimmick, or he might have been serious in his belief that our imaginations are enriched by super science. Either way, the goal of stimulating the imagination through science remains a good one, no matter what Gernsback’s true motivations.

Looking for your own copy of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES? Fans of genre fiction, original artwork, and vintage pulp magazines will find treasures galore at PulpFest 2019. The convention runs from Thursday, August 15, through Sunday, August 18, and is held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry, nineteen miles north of Pittsburgh, PA. This year’s theme is “Children of the Pulps and Other Stories.” Find out more about PulpFest’s great programming, register for the convention, and book a room at the DoubleTree from the convention’s home page. Then join us in August for a WONDERful immersion into the world of the pulps.

(Sara Light-Waller is one of more than thirty fiction writers who will be attending PulpFest 2019. An avid reader of pulp science fiction stories, Sara writes and illustrates her fiction in the manner of the Golden Age science fiction from the 1930’s and 40’s.  She is the author of ANCHOR: A STRANGE TALE OF TIME and LANDSCAPE OF DARKNESS.

Sara will be one of our “New Fictioneers” readers on Saturday, August 17, at PulpFest 2019.

The official release date of the June 1929 SCIENCE WONDER STORIES — featuring cover art by Frank R. Paul — is thanks to Mike Ashley and Robert A. W. Lowndes, writing in THE GERNSBACK DAYS (2004).

Between the twelve issues of SCIENCE WONDER STORIES and the combined WONDER STORIES, the magazine had a run of seventy-eight issues. The final issue of WONDER STORIES was dated April 1936. The title was then sold to Standard Magazines. It returned to the stands as THRILLING WONDER STORIES during the summer of 1936.

For a brief look at the history of this classic pulp magazine and its various incarnations, please see our post, “The Sense of Wonder (Stories),” published on our website on May 5, 2014.)